Psychotherapist Camila Batmanghelidjh, 52, started Kids Company, a charity that provides support to vulnerable young people, as a drop-in centre in Camberwell, south London, in 1996. (Photos: Mike Lawn)
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MY HAVEN – CAMILA BATMANGHELIDJH
The psychotherapist and founder of charity Kids Company, 52, in her south London office
1) KEEP SMILING
I established Kids Company in 1996, but we moved into this office five years ago. Our doors are open to any neglected child who feels they need us, and we now reach 36,000 across London, Bristol and Liverpool. This is my office and it’s full of the children’s artwork – I can’t bear to let it go and they love the fact I have it around me. Like this Laughing Man picture – I just love the imagination. A lot of the art is made for the major donors whose cash keeps us going, but I thought, ‘No donor’s getting this!’
2) SUPER ANNIE
One of our children, Annie, has special needs but she’s extraordinary. Her mother died, her sister was shot dead, then her grandmother, who became her carer, died. She was abused and ended up on the streets as a teenager being trafficked by drug dealers. She came here and started doing incredible art like this table. Now she goes into neglected children’s houses and cleans up and then paints and decorates. This table was for a donor too but it’s going nowhere, it’s absolutely exquisite.
A little girl called Ariana created the duck pond under the main table. The kids bring me plastic ducks and I use it for family therapy sessions when children want to show me what’s going on in their families, or in care. We also use it with the younger children because the table’s a bit big for them. They like to be on their stomachs, so they talk from under the table and move the ducks around. The house on the left is meant to be a castle. And the duck with the crown is supposed to be me!
4) FREE WISHES
This Wishing Tree was part of an exhibition we did, Angels And Demons, because we wanted to explore the way children are demonised. It’s adults’ choices that make these disturbed children. The idea was that children could hang their wishes on the tree, and I kept it because I feel I’m propelled into action every day by them. What they want sometimes is so poignant, like ‘A pair of shoes’. A third of our kids don’t have a bed to sleep on, and one in four doesn’t have any furniture.
5) THE LOVE TRUCK
This very special boy who was in foster care decided he wanted to make me a truck. It has me driving and in the back are all the glittery things I bring for the kids. But when you open the bonnet you get a surprise – he’s put a heart in it. He wanted to show that the engine of my truck is love. He was just ten and I was so touched by his profound understanding of what we’re about – transporting love from those who can give it to those who need it. The Love Truck and the Wishing Tree really move me.
6) TO THE RESCUE
I found a teenager in a pitch-dark flat. He had no light, no fridge, no bath, no bed, just his clothes in a bin liner. He’d had 64 care placements before the age of 16, and social services never visited again. I burst into tears and said, ‘No son of mine is going to live like this!’ We decorated his room and got him furniture. We took him shopping and he saw this elephant and said, ‘It looks like Camila! It’s got to be in her office.’ He must have thought, ‘It’s colourful, it’s big – and it’s got a big butt!’
- As told to Etan Smallman. Kids Company is asking the public to stand up for vulnerable children by signing its online petition for change at: seethechild.org